If you're a heavy Facebook user, and you're looking for an affordable smartphone, HTC claims it has the answer for you. The HTC ChaCha combines a full QWERTY keyboard and touchscreen with a dedicated Facebook button that allows easy integration with the world's most popular social networking service. Although the keyboard is a winner and the ChaCha is good value at this price, its small screen will frustrate those keen on web browsing.
Design and display
The HTC ChaCha combines a full QWERTY keyboard along with a 2.6in capacitive touch screen. The ChaCha's design is definitely a head turner, and its form factor sets it apart from most other Android phones on the market. The highlight is a full QWERTY keyboard and a curved design that slopes to fit the side of your face. The "chin" design may not be to all tastes, but we think it's both unique and practical, as the keyboard tilts towards you when you're looking directly at the screen.
The HTC ChaCha is a well built phone given its low-end market position. It uses HTC's unibody aluminium design, which is more commonly found on higher end smartphones like the Desire HD and the Sensation. We particularly love the feel of the power/lock button and side mounted volume controls, and the phone appears to be well constructed without being too heavy or large. The battery cover is a little difficult to slide off, but does not creak or rattle when pressed.
The HTC ChaCha's keyboard is simply superb for a phone in this price range. While it can't hold a candle to the famous BlackBerry keyboard, the ChaCha is comfortable and speedy to type on. The keys are well spaced and slightly raised, and tactility is excellent.
The trade off here is a touchscreen that is just 2.6 inches in diameter. Thankfully, HTC has tailored the ChaCha's interface to suit the smaller sized screen. Viewing angles are adequate, and the quality of the screen itself is fine considering the price. However, there are times when the ChaCha's screen simply feels too cramped.
The HTC ChaCha's Facebook button is located below the keyboard on the bottom edge of the phone. It works contextually and lights up whenever you can share multimedia content or status updates through the social networking service.
For example, after a photo is taken with the HTC ChaCha's camera, you can simply push the Facebook button to automatically upload the image (it also works as a camera shutter key), while in the music app you can press it to share the name of the song you're listening to through Facebook. You can also press and hold the button to automatically check in through the Facebook Places feature, or simply press it once to update your Facebook status.
In addition to the Facebook button, the HTC ChaCha also has Facebook integration built into the user interface. You can view a friend's latest Facebook status and photos on the dialler when you make a call, and when you receive calls. The ChaCha also has a dedicated Facebook chat widget, which is part of HTC's Sense user interface.
Though these features work well enough, they aren't really deal clinchers. Aside from the dedicated Facebook chat widget, most of these features are available on many other HTC Android smartphones.
Software and performance
The HTC ChaCha runs the latest version of Android, 2.3 "Gingerbread" and also features HTC's Sense UI overlay. It remains similar to most other HTC Android phones, though the Sense UI has been tailored to suit the ChaCha's smaller screen.
Most of the menu buttons have been moved to the right of the screen instead of the bottom, while the main home screen has shortcuts to the app drawer and personalise, though these can't be edited or removed. The limited screen size means text is small and there are times where the interface feels very cramped. However, given the excellent physical keyboard, it's a trade-off that many users will be happy to live with.
Perhaps the best feature of HTC Sense on the ChaCha is the new lock screen, which has been borrowed directly from the HTC Sensation. The ChaCha's lock screen comes with four customisable shortcuts that can be dragged into the 'unlock ring' to unlock straight into an assigned app. The lock screen also displays missed calls, email and SMS notifications (and album art when you are playing music).
Annoyingly, you can't directly unlock straight into these apps unless you have them set as a lock screen shortcut. Sadly, the smaller screen has resulted in some cutbacks. The eight most recently opened applications and quick setting toggles are no longer in the notifications panel.
With an 800MHz processor and a respectable 512MB RAM, the HTC ChaCha has very reasonable specifications for a phone in this price range. This also translates to a smooth user experience: the ChaCha's speed won't dazzle you, but we did not experience any lag or slowdown during everyday use.
One aspect that won't blow you away is web browsing. The small screen of the ChaCha makes this a painful and cramped experience. The arrow keys on the QWERTY keyboard make moving around the page a little easier to deal with, but if you're looking for a phone that offers a superb web browsing experience, the HTC ChaCha is definitely not for you.
Camera, battery life and other features
The HTC ChaCha has a 5-megapixel camera with a single LED flash, and there is also a front-facing VGA camera for video calls. The rear camera also doubles as a standard definition video recorder. The flash works reasonably well in dim lighting, though video recording quality is below average. We love the fact that you can use the external volume controls as zoom keys, along with the Facebook key doubling as a shutter button.
The HTC ChaCha has 512MB of internal memory, but comes with a microSD card slot, and there is a 2GB card in the sales package.
Battery life on the HTC ChaCha is above average for an Android phone, lasting a full day, and this could often stretch to almost two days depending on use. On average, we managed to squeeze a day and a half out of the ChaCha with moderate use. The smaller screen is the most likely reason for the extra battery life, as the display on most Android phones is the main cause of battery drain.
The HTC ChaCha offers smart integration with Facebook and also possesses an excellent physical keyboard. Its small screen will frustrate users keen on mobile web browsing, but if you can live with these drawbacks, the ChaCha is very good value for money.